Amjad Sabri, one of Pakistan’s most well-known Sufi musicians, was gunned down Wednesday in the southern city of Karachi.
Sabri, 45, was the victim of what police are calling a targeted killing. Two assailants on a motorcycle opened fire on his car, firing 5 or 6 shots, according to Muqqadas Haider, a senior police official.
Sabri died of his injuries en route to the hospital, Haider told CNN. The singer was known for not having any political affiliations.
Amjad Sabri belonged to the renowned Sabri family, members of the Chishti Sufi order and the most famous Qawwali group in the country. They had performed internationally and were known for their renditions of mystical Islamic poetry. Qawwali is a form of passionate, devotional Sufi music, specifically from South Asia.
A faction of the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, citing the type of music Sabri performs as “blasphemous.”
Ahmer Naqvi, a journalist who works at local music streaming platform Patari, explained that Qawwali as an art form can be threatening to some radical Muslims.
“It is a very much a subcontinental expression of Islam, a region that is one of the great historical centers of the religion. And as Islamic orthodoxy has moved away from music, that hostility has expanded towards the arts, including Qawwali,” he said.
The Sabri family and their unique, urbanized style of Qawwali have been an integral part of Pakistan’s cultural landscape since the 1950s, with their music and lyrics known to almost all Pakistanis across the social and cultural spectrum.
Wednesday’s killing of Amjad Sabri, the family’s second-generation scion, prompted an outpouring of grief across the country. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif released a statement calling the killing a “terrorist attack” and lauding Sabri for his efforts in the “promotion of Qawwali in the country.”
The interior ministry has released a statement stating Pakistan’s security and intelligence agencies will work together to track down Sabri’s killers.
Qawwali has flourished in the shrines of Sufi saints that are dotted across Pakistan. But the mystical, moderate form of Sufi Islam practiced there has become a target of militants in recent years.
Many Pakistanis took to social media to express outrage at the slaying, which took place during Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim calendar.
The killing also follows a spike in violence in Karachi, which is Pakistan’s largest and most populated city. A military operation to combat terrorism has been underway in the city since 2013.